My daughter was a shy toddler. She didn’t want to be with anyone but me — ever. Yes, it was endearing to know how much she loved and felt protected by me, but I wanted her to be social and happy. She wasn’t.
When she was two, I would drop her off at her little learners class for three hours, two days a week, and she cried. Every. Single. Day. At 3, she stopped crying, but headed straight to the corner to sit in silence. Both years the teachers assured me that she was OK when I was gone, that she was adjusting and it would take her a while to warm up.
And then the pandemic hit, and she was back home with me.
I braced myself for regression when it was time for in-person kindergarten. There were new teachers, new friends, and new protocols that she wasn’t used to. I could no longer walk her to her classroom. Instead she would be greeted by a teacher, had her temperature taken, and headed down a staircase by herself for the day.
For weeks, I mourned what was about to happen. It would be the first time in four years that we were going to be apart for seven and a half hours, five days a week. My days as a full-time stay-at-home mom were coming to an end. She couldn’t wait; I prayed for summer never to end.
I cried for weeks, and then the day came. We had visited her kindergarten classroom and met her teacher the week before. She had proudly modeled her uniform for her daddy, and picked out a bow and new shoes. Unlike her brothers, there was no walking her in on her first day; she was going to do it alone. I took a deep breath and said, “I love you, have the best day.”
She gave me a kiss and was off. There were no tears. No hiding in the car or clinging to me. She never even turned around. My baby was excited, brave and ready. My heart burst with pride. I didn’t cry. I was happy for her. Thrilled. My baby girl had grown her wings.
I have teased and asked her if she misses me while she is at school. She said, “No. Why would I miss you?”
Of course, she shouldn’t miss me. I want her to take it all in. She should be making friends and learning to read. And every day she is doing those things. She is truly a different child than she was just a year ago.
Thankfully, I am still part of her little world. We play with her dolls and wear matching dresses. She still lets me pick out bows for her hair, and the occasional sweater.
I am not naive to the fact that this is all fleeting. Just as she no longer misses me when she is at kindergarten, she won’t always depend on me as much as she does now. The Velcro will turn to laces. The bows will change to scrunchies, and the matching lunch box and backpack will be replaced with a nondescript paper bag.
It has all gone so quickly. That little girl who I could scoop up in my arms and hold tightly before I walked out the door needs me less and less each day. But I need her. I don’t think she will ever be able to comprehend how much I need her. My daughter may share my heart with her three brothers, but she is also the baby and will always tug at those heartstrings a little bit harder.
I will not allow myself to wallow in the past, but I will embrace the now and look forward to the future. Because before I know it, she will be leaving the nest for real and heading out on her own. And if I do my job right from now until then, maybe she’ll miss me, just a little.